A Palestinian American journalist who was barred from boarding her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv in July says that she was humiliated and discriminated against by employees of Israel’s flagship carrier.
Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation has opened an investigation into the incident, it confirmed to Insider by email.
The investigation follows a complaint filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on July 31, on behalf of passenger Noor Wazwaz. It was filed less than two weeks after Wazwaz was denied boarding on an El Al Israel Airlines flight on July 18.
The complaint accuses El Al, as well as the U.S. Transportation Security Agency, of discriminating against Wazwaz — a U.S. citizen — on the basis of her Palestinian, Muslim and Arab backgrounds, according to an ADC news release.
The ADC previously said in a news release announcing the complaint that Wazwaz faced “serious discrimination and harassment”, which it said included being forced to undergo “extensive and humiliating searches and questioning, unlike other passengers.”
On the day she was barred from the flight, Wazwaz posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, about her experience.
“They are telling me that because I am Palestinian and I’m flying into Israel, I’m not allowed to take my laptop, any chargers, not even my portable charger, with me on the plane,” she said in the video.
“They are worried that someone packed my bag, that I wasn’t the one that packed my bag,” she added.
In a thread also posted on X, Wazwaz said she asked an El Al employee explicitly if this interaction happened because she is Palestinian. According to her, he responded, “Yes, and you’re going to places like Ramallah.”
She also claimed that there was an “alert” which showed that her laptop was flagged for potentially containing explosives. Later, she claimed, her shoes were swabbed and caused the same alert.
Wazwaz claimed she was taken into a room for extensive screening, which she said was run by Israeli airline staff.
I was denied boarding on @EL_AL_ISRAEL because they claimed that I was a “security risk.” Here is a glimpse of what it’s like to travel to Israel as a Palestinian, even if you’re an American. It all started when I went to go drop off my bags at the counter at EWR. pic.twitter.com/1W9X9fm3pX
— Noor | نور (@nfwazwaz) July 18, 2023
“Took off half my clothes, socks, shoes,” she wrote. “Was THOROUGHLY patted down. Head to toe. They swabbed my clothes, my bag, shoes, socks, literally everything.”
Wazwaz also said that she was documenting the experience on her cellphone when an airline employee “demanded” to look at her photos and videos.
He “proceeded to DELETE my pictures from my phone,” she claimed in an X post.
The Palestinian American journalist said she was later rebooked onto a United Airlines flight to Israel after being denied boarding. But once in Israel, she was subject to additional screening.
“This entire experience has taken an immense toll on me,” she wrote in an X post on July 18. “For hours I felt so sick, my chest was hurting and my anxiety was at an all-time high.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed the investigation into the allegation of discrimination against El Al.
“We believe in the fundamental principle that every individual deserves respect and fair treatment during their travel experience,”ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said in a statement. “DOT’s investigation into Noor’s case is a significant step towards ensuring that these values are upheld across the aviation sector.”
— INSIDER. Edited for style.